Groves Council Looks To Update Rules And Procedures For Meetings

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council held its annual re-organizational meeting on Tuesday, April 4. At the meeting, Vice Mayor Laura Danowski was chosen to serve as mayor, while Robert Shorr, who had been serving as mayor, was tapped for vice mayor.

Shorr was chosen as chair of the dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, while Councilwoman Marge Herzog will remain as treasurer of the LGWCD.

The meeting included a discussion of rules regarding the town’s advisory boards, as well as a discussion of the council’s own rules and procedures.

Town Attorney Elizabeth Lenihan said the rules and procedures were last updated in 2019, with related code changes last updated in 2008. Several items are not up to date with current procedures, such as the time of meetings, and need to be updated, she said.

Lenihan said that while a list of discussion items was presented, it is up to the council to decide how to proceed.

Suggested discussion items included: which meetings (including board and committee meetings) should get livestreamed; who and how many council members sign documents; the use and placement of lights when council members wish to speak; cellular phone use; the appropriate manner of addressing each other during discussions; the tone and tenor of comments from council members; the use of one-on-one meetings with staff prior to council meetings; and effective use of Monday agenda review meetings.

Danowski said that all town meetings should be livestreamed and remain available on YouTube to provide as much information to the public as possible, and the rest of the council agreed. Regarding cell phone use, the council agreed not to use phones on the dais.

The most challenging item was regarding the tone and tenor of council comments. Council members have been known to get into arguments with each other on the dais.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that we are passionate,” Danowski said. “That’s the reason we’re up here. I think, myself included, we need to be a little more tolerant and understanding.”

She also asked that council members try to stay more on topic.

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia, who is often a dissenter on council items and has been known to strongly disagree with other members, said that she understands the concerns. “I’m doing my best to try to tone it down,” she said, suggesting the use of a mediator.

Councilwoman Marianne Miles said that she would like the see an end to insinuations and accusatory allegations against other council members. “We are public officials, and to insinuate that some things are going on, I don’t think that’s right,” she said.

Shorr said that it is necessary to have thick skin in this job, particularly when it comes to hearing from members of the public. “That’s their choice. It’s free speech,” he said.

Regarding agenda review meetings on Mondays, Miles said she did not feel they were effective in their goal to streamline council meetings. She suggested just having one-on-one meetings with staff.

Maniglia said that she wanted to keep the Monday meetings because she feels it is a timesaver for staff to address questions from all council members at one time.

Shorr said that there is a fine line between asking questions of staff and going too far along in the decision-making process at the agenda review meetings. “As mayor, I felt that I got an idea of the flow of meeting and what the hot topics would be,” he said.

Herzog agreed that the Monday meetings were more cost effective.

Danowski suggested that the Monday meetings continue through June, and then readdress the issue.

On a related topic, Danowski later suggested having more guest speakers at meetings, such as other local officials from Palm Beach County and neighboring communities. “For so long, Loxahatchee Groves has been ‘love it and leave it alone.’ But I think we have done ourselves a disservice by insulating and not having a clue about what is going on around us and how we can be good neighbors and part of a system,” she said.

In other business, one major action item on the council’s agenda was postponed to the next meeting. It was the awarding of a $1.45 million contract for the paving of 11 roadway segments to J.W. Cheatham LLC, the lowest responsible bidder among the six received. The item was postponed because the necessary budget amendment was not ready for council action.